Newly elected Village Trustee Hannah Bergene was already sold on Cooperstown.
But her first Induction Weekend working for the Chamber of Commerce – in 2015, the Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez year – she got sold all over again.
Baseball fans were jammed onto the front steps of Chamber headquarters in that yellow-and-white cottage at 31 Chestnut St., trying to catch a glimpse of their heroes passing by in the Legends of the Game parade.
“They were so in awe,” said Bergene. “They had waited all their lives to come here. We” – who live here – “take it for granted.”
She maintained that excitement for her five years at the Chamber, where she rose to marketing director under Executive Director Matt Hazzard, and for the past two years as social media director at Paperkite Creative, the Internet marketing firm.
Tuesday, March 16, Bergene and Trustee Cindy Falk, the deputy mayor, ran unopposed and received 139 and 136 votes respectively. Both are Democrats.
She ran, Bergene said in an interview Saturday, March 13, “because Mac asked me too” – Trustee Mac Benton, 23, who with County Democratic Chairman Clark Oliver, 22, have been recruiting young people here, in Oneonta and countywide to run for office.
The new trustee, her interest piqued by her work at the Chamber of Commerce, had considered elected office at some point, but “in my mind, it was years in the future.
“But why not? Why not get involved?” she asked herself. “The village needs young people to attract other young people here.”
COOPERSTOWN – Democrat MacGuire Benton confirmed a few minutes ago he plans to challenge the dean of the county board Democrats, Andrew Marietta, for the Cooperstown/Town of Otsego seat in next June’s primary.
“Primaries are the sign of a healthy democracy,” he said, adding he’s looking forward to “an exchange of ideas.” He added, “It’s early, and I look forward to sharing my platform with District 8” when it is fully developed.
For his part, Marietta, who has been working with his colleagues on creating a county-manager position, said, “I have a job that I feel is unfinished.” The 2021 county budget, recently approved, includes $50,000, with the idea the manager position can be revisited next as COVID retreats.
First, congratulations to Democrat Mac Benton and Republican Mary-Margaret Robbins for a hard-fought campaign for Cooperstown Village Board.
Mac won, but both he and Mary-Margaret showed a lot of class – he in victory; she in defeat – after the Tuesday, Sept. 29, tallying showed he garnered 343 votes to her 308.
He said her strong challenge will “make me a better trustee.” She praised the people of Cooperstown, those who supported her and those who were active in supporting Mac, as representative of the community’s spirit.
In looking back over past Cooperstown Election Nights, that Freeman’s Journal front page from Thursday, March 17, 2011 – at right – showed up. It signaled the start of nine years of Democratic domination of the Cooperstown Village Board, which will now continue.
That picture in that front page’s upper left shows Jacob Miller dancing with mom Nancy at the 2011 Cooperstown Cotillion at The Otesaga, where Cooperstown 13-year-olds annually show off newly gained ballroom dancing skills.
Since, Jacob graduated from CCS, graduated from Harvard, and is now an assistant coach with the University of Georgia’s football team.
That’s how long it’s been since Democrats and Republicans balance each other on the Village Board.
That year, Democrats Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch, now mayor, was elected to the Village Board, along with newcomers Walter Franck and Jim Dean. Trustee Jeff Katz was reelected to the board. After a year of Democrats bedeviling the only Republican on the board, Mayor Joe Booan, Katz was elected mayor.
Those have been nine years of huge accomplishment for the Village of Cooperstown, fueled by the enactment of on-street paid parking, which generate $400,000 in new money a year for village government.
A decaying downtown has been fully repaired – sewerage replaced, streets and sidewalks redone, new street lamps, benches and $4,000 trash receptacles (they can be locked during the Parade of Legends each Induction Weekend) installed.
Pioneer Park at Main and Pioneer has a brick surface, a slightly elevated bandstand, water cooler, bike racks, new furniture.
The $5.5 million redo of Doubleday Field and the parking lot, completed this summer, is world class, appropriate for the world-class attraction. If you haven’t visited it yet, do yourself a favor: Make the drive to Cooperstown on one of the remaining fall weekends.
Among many, credit goes in particular to the hard-driving, determined Chicagoan Jeff Katz, mayor for six years, and such committed trustees as Tillapaugh, Cindy Falk, Lou Allstadt and several others. Now Mayor Tillapaugh is an able successor to Katz, smart, steady, disciplined, an elegant ambassador for “America’s Most Perfect Village.”
There’s much that these people – and Cooperstown’s citizens at large – can reflect on with pride.
While the Democratic bloc remains in control, it can only be learned that something was learned from this hard-fought campaign.
In the long ago League of Women Voters’ forum in this year’s race – March 7; the March 18 election was delayed until a couple of weeks ago by the COVID-19 threat – Robbins suggested the “Year of Cooperstownians,” 12 months when the Village Board focuses on making Cooperstown a more pleasant place to live.
Two incidents led to Mary-Margaret Robbins’ candidacy.
• One, the Village Board, without consulting, sought to impose diagonal parking on lower Pioneer Street, unaware or uncaring that cars entering and exiting would shine their brights into neighbors living rooms, plus adding congestion to the neighborhood.
• Two, one of those infur-iating blinking stop signs was installed at Lake and Fair streets, blinking all night long into a neighbor’s bedroom.
Despite the outcome of Tuesday’s vote, the Democrate bloc should take Robbins’ advice to heart.
The Village Board has a lot of ideas, but has it asked citizens lately, what do you want us to do next?
I grew up reading the newspaper much as you are now. There were no cellphones, no social media, and no 24-hour news networks. My worldview was shaped by rotary dials, printer’s ink, and
the 6 o’clock news.
I imagine many of you could say the same. Between 1990 and 2010, the federal Census showed that in the Village of Cooperstown there was an overall decline in every age group except for 50- to 59-year-olds. The sharpest decline (47 percent) was in the 30-to-39 age group.
My husband and I moved to the village with our young family in 2004, but our experience is far from the norm. The lack of young people in Cooperstown is a problem that we need to correct if our community organizations, schools and local government are going to thrive in the future.
This is where Trustee MacGuire Benton comes in.
I may not agree with MacGuire on every issue that comes before the Board of Trustees, but I always value his perspective. His experiences are often closer to those of my children and the graduate students with whom I work, the very people we need to help shape our plans moving forward.
For example, MacGuire saw the need to provide video access to village meetings even before the pandemic. In a desire to further government transparency and be more inclusive, he suggested policies last year that made the transition to online content easier when it became necessary due to the pandemic.
He recently pointed out the benefits of an official village Facebook page so that people do not have to turn to AllOtsego.com or Celebrate Cooperstown to get information about what is going on. Mac is committed to free and open communication and helping to make Cooperstown a place where young people of all backgrounds want to live.
On Sept. 15, something unusual happened: MacGuire Benton and Mary-Margaret Robbins – both eager to serve as village trustees – tied in a race for a seat on the board. Both have widespread support, each garnering 272 votes. And both undoubtedly love our Village and want what’s best for it.
However, if you are still undecided about whether to vote or for whom to vote in the run-off election on Sept. 29, I urge you to look to the future. Ensure there is a voice in village government that represents the next generation. Vote to re-elect MacGuire Benton noon-9 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 29, at the fire hall, or by absentee ballot prior to the 29th.
COOPERSTOWN – Election Night in Cooperstown Tuesday, Sept. 15, was a nail-biter, ending with a 272-272 tie and setting up a runoff election for next Tuesday the 29th.
The runoff is between Democratic incumbent MacGuire Benton and Republican newcomer Mary-Margaret Robbins. Polls will again be open noon-9 p.m. at the fire hall.
This week, the candidates were asked to provide a final statement to village voters.
“I think things are going very well,” said Benton.
“A Village Board of proven leaders has worked very hard. I hope the people of Cooperstown will keep the progress going. I want to keep the progress going. I want to keep things going the way they are.”
Said Robbins, “As a longtime resident of Cooperstown, I choose to live here, work here and raise my family here. Now, I’m running for the Village Board to ensure Cooperstown stays a great place to live, work and raise a family for generations to come.”
Because of the short time to the runoff, Village Administrator Teri Barown extended office hours – 8 a.m. – 7 p.m. Thursday the 24th, and 8 a.m. – noon Saturday the
26th – for people who want to vote absentee to pick up applications or drop off ballots.
Absentee ballots may also be submitted Election Day until the polls close at 9 p.m.
What happened here Election Night provides a hint of what’s to come nationally after Nov. 3.
A few minutes after the polls closed at 9 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 15, Election Inspectors Tom Lyon and Ed Gwilt had the official count from voting machines: 234 for Joe Membrino, plus the 227 for Benton and 208 for Robbins.
But there were 108 absentee ballots, a lot more than usual.
First, Village Administrator Teri Barown and Election Inspectors Nancy Morton and Tom Heitz certified each of them, checking absentee voters against the list of registered voters provided by the county Board of Elections.
Ten voters had apparently forgotten they’d voted by absentee in the March 18 election that delayed six months by COVID-19, and they voted again.
“You put ‘already voted’ on those ballots,” said Barown, “and set them aside.”
One voter who had voted in March had since died, and his ballot was disqualified, too.
The ballots were then counted individually, “Membrino, Benton,” said Compton. Then, “Membrino, Robbins,” Heitz would say. There were a number of ballots with single votes for either Benton or Robbins.
Counting absentees and adding them to the machine count took an hour and a half, as the candidates, friends, family members and supporters stood by.
When Barown announced the tie, Robbins and Benton gasped, laughed and shook hands.
Membrino’s wife Martha gave her hubby a big hug, (which they agreeably repeated for the photographer.)
Both candidates in the tie rejected a coin toss– one means of resolving ties – and opted for the runoff election.
I strongly urge citizens of Cooperstown to vote for MacGuire Benton in the run-off election Tuesday, Sept. 29, for the Village Board.
I have worked with MacGuire on the board for 1½ years and before that in other endeavors for the past three years.
Mac is exceedingly hard working and thorough in his preparation. He has recognized issues and potential solutions, on occasion before the rest of us.
He has pushed for the continued improvement of Cooperstown and rehabilitation of its infrastructure.
He put forward the initiative to get Board meetings recorded and available for streaming to promote transparency in our government.
He has proposed bills that were subsequently approved unanimously.
Mac and members of his generation are the future of village government. Already he brings a perspective to a board that not including him averages over 65 years old.
He has demonstrated a willingness to learn and to improve his work.
Although he has been accused of it, when it comes to the village, he is not doctrinaire.
Mac has said that further rehabilitation and upgrades cannot be delayed any further administrations chose to do before 2009. As it is, we are already delayed this year in road upgrades by the pandemic crisis.
If we don’t fix things now, like water and sewers, even if short-term disruptive, the cost and disruption will be much greater when these systems ultimately, fail.
COOPERSTOWN – A memorial to black lives lost to racial injustice and police brutality was approved for display in Cooperstown by the Village Board during its meeting this evening.
“It’s a great idea,” said Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch.
The memorial, spearheaded by Jennifer Dibble, Hartwick, would include laminated photos of black men and women from the “Say Their Names” memorial database, affixed to the fence with zip-ties, and decorated with flowers. A dedication, including blessings from Jonathan Brown and Rev. LaDana Clark, is also planned.
COOPERTOWN – “Affordable housing” will be the priority of Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch, who is running unopposed in the Sept. 15 Village Board primary, according to questionnaires posted today by the League of Women Voters, Cooperstown chapter, on the LWV’s “Vote 411” web site.
“The village’s largest employer, Bassett Healthcare, employs 2700 people on the Cooperstown campus alone,” wrote Tillapaugh in response to the League’s questionnaire. “The majority of those employees commute from long distances. It is to Cooperstown’s advantage to increase our housing stock and population.”
In addition to the mayor, three candidates are competing for two trustee positions: MacGuire Benton and Joe Membrino, incumbents and Democrats, and Mary Margaret Robbins, Republican challenger.
COOPERSTOWN –Enough with “11th hour resolutions,” Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch is concluding.
At issue at hand is a resolution, passed unanimously by the Village Board Monday, June 22, asking the state Education Department to consider removing the word “Indians” from the Historic Marker at Council Rock, and perhaps the one at the Indian Mound marker, too.
As the trustees’ meeting was coming to an end, Trustee MacGuire Benton had jumped in to say a constituent had told him using the word “Indians” is “insensitive.”
Trustee Richard Sternberg quickly recast Benton’s remarks in resolution form, which within minutes was put to a vote asking the state Education Department to change the language.
This Monday, the 29th, Sternberg issued an apology. “After discussions with people much more knowledgeable than I about tribal histories and affairs,” he stated in a press release, “I realized that my wording was poor and that I didn’t even state well what my true intention was.
“I have requested that the other trustees delay implementing it until I can withdraw and replace it,” he wrote.
How might that be avoided in the future?
“I don’t want to hamper anybody in any way,” said Mayor Tillapaugh. “But there has to be more research and nuanced phrasing. There is recognition, all around, that there was not.”
She continued: “Subsequently, I’ve heard that Kevin Gover, a citizen of the Pawnee Nation and director of the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, has no problem with the word ‘Indian’.”
Some do object to “Native American,” she said, and they point out their ancestors were on this continent long before Amerigo Vespucci was born.
“They believe they are members of their tribes first,” she added.
Going forward, the mayor said she is going to ask trustees to submit prospective resolutions to Village Administrator Teri Barown by the Friday before each meeting. It can then be included in the packet of information trustees review over the weekend in advance of their monthly meeting.
She is also referring the “Indians” matter to the village’s Parks Board, chaired by Trustee Jeanne Dewey, to come to an understanding of what sensitivities, if any, surround the word “Indians” and whether any further action is warranted.
For his part, Benton, the trustee who started the whole thing, said he supports Sternberg’s decision to withdraw the motion.
Still, he echoed the resolution: “I see the village reaching out to tribal leaders in Upstate New York and the state Education Department to update the signage as they see fit.”
He also envisions a telephone number alongside the Historic Markers that people could “essentially, dial one for a full history, instead of a couple of sentences.”
He further suggested, “I do hope the signage about General Clinton is changed to reflect history more accurately and to honor native history. General Clinton led an ethnic cleansing campaign, and I don’t think the sign accurately reflects it.”
COOPERSTOWN – Village Trustee Richard Sternberg is withdrawing his resolution that would seek the removal of the word “Indian” or “Indians” from historical markers in the village, he announced a few minutes ago.
“After discussions with people much more knowledgeable than I about tribal histories and affairs, I realized that my wording was poor and that I didn’t even state well what my true intention was,” he said in a statement.
COOPERSTOWN – It was a constituent that alerted Village Trustee MacGuire Benton to verbiage on historic markers at Council Rock, a Native American meeting place where the Susque- hanna River flows out of Otsego Lake.
“I was shocked that I hadn’t noticed it previously,” he said. “The sign refers to Native Americans
as ‘Indians’. It’s racially insensitive and incorrect, and it needs to be updated.”
The signs, which were installed by the state Department of Education as WPA projects in the 1930s, refer to Council Rock as: “Famous meeting place of the Indians.”
That prompted Trustee Cindy Falk to raise the same concern about The Indian Grave, two blocks away at Estli Avenue and Main Street. A “newer” sign, it commemorates remains that were excavated and reburied in a mound there.
Even newer plaques, such as the one installed a year ago January at First Presbyterian Church, commemorating New York State’s 1827 emancipation of slaves, does include updated language, said Benton.
“We’re not the only municipality making these changes,” he said. “In this moment of social awareness and racial justice, I’m sure the state Department of Education is familiar with this request.”
Trustee Richard Sternberg made the motion to reach out to the Education Department. “We need to get ahead of this,” he said. “That way, we can acknowledge that we recognize this and immediately send it on to be corrected.”
Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch asked Trustee Jeanne Dewey, as chair of the Parks Board, to spearhead the task.
However, Trustee Joe Membrino cautioned against jumping too quickly to make the change. “I’ve been involved in Indian Affairs and we need to be careful how we’re presenting this,” he said. “We should investigate and we should make the request, but we shouldn’t assume what is politically or culturally correct. We need to do our due diligence.”
“Whoever is making the new signs will be awfully sensitive,” said Sternberg.
As part of the TEP project on Pioneer Street, the mayor said the village had to work with Mohawks and Oneidas to assure compliance, and that they still have connections to the tribal organizations that they can reach out to clarify the proper language for the sign update.
“It’s not about taking down the signs,” said Tillapaugh. “It’s about using language that is culturally appropriate.”
No one mentioned that one of Cooperstown’s most famous statues, “The Indian Hunter” by John Quincy Adams Ward, is in Lakefront Park.